En route to school officials seeking permission from voters to borrow and spend $30 million, it's odd that the early discussion has focused on who foots the $38,000 bill for asking the question.
At issue is a now-settled legal matter: Who pays for a county-run election when it's the school board's ballot? The law is pretty clear. "We're obligated to pay for all elections." says County Commission Chariman Ron Cross.
Thus, Columbia County's government will pay for the March 15 referendum in which the school board wants voters to extend the one-cent sales tax, and to approve bonds to borrow against the sales-tax proceeds.
Though the total cost of the election is just a fraction of a percent of the amount the tax will bring in, it's really the principle of the thing: Some county officials are concerned that timing of the election doesn't allow coordination so more issues could be on the same ballot.
That's a valid worry, but the school system had little choice on the timing. Though the current special-purpose, local-option sales tax doesn't expire until 2007, next year's early renewal will allow the schools to borrow against future SPLOST income. With early access to the money, the school system can start preparing for construction of as many as six new schools.
Between now and March 15, there's still plenty of time for county officials to come up with questions to ask voters on the same ballot. For example, even though details won't be ready by then, commissioners could take voters' pulse on the idea of building a civic arena in the county.
Just like those new schools, which are a necessity, the money for an arena would come out of voters' pockets. And just like the referendum asking voters to pay for such projects, voters ultimately pay for the election. It really doesn't much matter which pocket the money comes out of.
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